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  • Writer's pictureBarra Oconnell

Eagle AC Member Profile: Mark Smith

Name: Mark Smith

Member of Eagle AC since:

June 2017

How long have you been running and what made you take it up:

I first took up running after work and relocations (and age) restricted my ability to train and play soccer regularly. It was just as a means to stay fit, but no more than 15 miles a week. I took up more serious running after the death of my son, Callum, who passed away at 6 weeks old from a rare genetic disorder. Running became an outlet for me where I could think and try to come to terms with what had happened. I know I broke down a lot during that time, both physically and mentally. I decided to run a marathon in his memory and completed the Cork marathon ~6 months later for Féileacáin, a baby loss awareness charity. I have been running ever since.

Favourite thing about running:

Two things stand out.  The freedom that comes with it.  You can go whenever you have time, where you want and for as long as you want.  You get the freedom to think clearly, away from computer screens and other distractions.  I also like the fact that all runners are equal, if you don’t train and put in the hard work you will be found out in a race.  No matter your ability there is always an opportunity to do better than what you have done before.

Can you remember the first Eagle AC member(s) you ran with:

Vince O’Sullivan. I turned up at a track session and had never done intervals before so really had no idea what I was doing. I ran around the track in lane 2 or 3 with the lads. They probably thought I was being cocky, rather than just being a complete novice!

Favourite Cork race and why:

It would not be my favourite course but for a number of reasons I will always remember my first marathon (and first ever road race), which was Cork 2012. Beyond that though, my favourite over the last few years has been the Cork to Cobh 15 miler. Not sure what it is specifically but I have always enjoyed running it and I love the finish, with the sprint downhill into Cobh.

Ultimate/Overall running goal:

Strange, but I don’t really have a running goal at the moment. I completed the 6 World Marathons Majors back in 2018, which had been my main goal and then went under 2:30 for the 1st time in Berlin in 2019. In the current Covid world it would be good to do a proper race again having spent so long training. It would be great to think a marathon PB is still achievable, but I would take just keeping up with Damo these days!

Most memorable/funniest running moment to date:

I’d break it into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of marathon running.

The Good: In my 1st marathon I stuck with the 3 hour pacer the whole way until ~100m before the turn into St. Patrick’s Street, at which point he turned to me and said “will you not just f#@% off!”. Made me laugh, but was great to put in a final sprint by myself to cross the finishing line.

The Bad: The 2nd time I ran London I was carrying an injury that blew up ~18 miles. The last 8 miles were miserable. The worst was in the last 400m when a 6 ft lad in a pink tutu ran up beside me, jumped, did a perfect pirouette and still went on to beat me by 50m. I saw the funny side later but I definitely didn’t at the time.

The Ugly: My Boston marathon experience of 2018 in the freezing cold and gale force winds. I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill before I even realised I was on it. Due to the conditions there was no support and they had removed all the markers and balloons. Felt like a complete non-event after all I had heard about it. You can’t choose the weather!

Tell us something most people might not know about you:

As a kid I played the bagpipes to a pretty competitive standard. Weirdly I actually attribute some of my running ability to this, as you really build significant lung capacity. Also, despite what you may have been led to believe not everyone from Scotland plays the bagpipes…..

Biggest heroes (sporting or non-sporting):

Growing up I supported a team called Dundee United. At the time there was a Scottish international, Maurice Malpas, who only ever played for the one club. I respected that type of loyalty and commitment; you could see the pride every time he put on the shirt and what it meant to him. This was before the days of big money in the sport, but I really admired that attitude. Nowadays, my heroes are more widespread, but I really respect people who stand up for what they believe in (and for other people) especially where it is difficult to do so. The easier option is almost always to do and say nothing.

One bit of advice you would give to someone thinking of taking up running:

To reach your running potential you have to focus on both your physical and mental health. People will enjoy different aspects about running, miles on your own, and some with company. I like both, but I would definitely recommend adding group sessions into your training if you can. There is a honesty about running, especially over long distances, that is hard to replicate and you tend to discover a lot about your training partners at the back-end of a 22 mile run. You’ll find that the group can drive you on when you are suffering, but equally can change your mental outlook when you are not in a good place. Reaching out to someone and going for a run with them can make a difference.

If you could go on a run with one elite athlete (at your pace!) who would it be and what would you ask them:

Also involves time travel, but I would like to run a few miles with Jesse Owens (I might have been able to wear him down enough after 1km to have a conversation!). I have read the stories about him, and almost everyone would be familiar with his performances at the 1936 Olympics, but he did so much more. It would have been fascinating to hear first-hand about his life and the persecution he suffered (also in his own country). It would be really interesting to ask him his opinion on modern day athletics and athletes.

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